New technologies hold key to ensuring India’s future electricity supplies while cutting CO2 emissions

Massive investment required not only to meet soaring demand for electricity but also to provide power to 35% of Indians who lack access.

3 March 2011

India’s electricity supply and demand is projected to increase fivefold to sixfold between now and 2050 reveals a new IEA report, Technology Development Prospects for the Indian Power Sector. The authors observe that while “this development will require massive investment, it also creates unique opportunities to transform the country’s CO2 intensity.” |

“Not only will investment in low-carbon power technologies dramatically help the country’s efforts to significantly reduce its carbon dioxide emissions, but it will also go some way to helping create more supply for the 404 million Indians who currently don’t have access to electricity,” explains Uwe Remme, one of the report’s authors. “Providing electricity to these people while moving to low-carbon electricity generation is a social imperative.”

In the report, experts developed two possible scenarios to analyse the country’s power sector. The first scenario is the projected outcome based on energy policies that have already been implemented or are approved for implementation in the near future. The second is a much more upbeat scenario which, if implemented, would half energy-related CO2 emissions by 2050, when compared to 2005 levels.

Among the low-carbon options investigated by the authors are Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), nuclear and renewable technologies.

Cleaning up coal

Coal represents the largest primary energy source in India, with a share of 42% in 2008.

With the more positive of the two scenarios, the paper stresses that if India is to significantly reduce the amount of CO2 it produces, coal using Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) “must be part of the solution”.

However, the authors go on to warn that “CCS is a relatively new concept in CO2-free electricity supply, and developments of a technology suited for Indian coal will require special attention.”

For coal with CCS, the paper recommends “investigating the suitability of different methods of capture … for Indian coal, which suffers from high ash content.”

Nuclear options

To achieve the more upbeat scenario, IEA experts expect nuclear power would have to increase dramatically, with more than 100 new reactors being built in the next 40 years.

In order to meet this ambitious option, the report suggests that one strategy India can continue to pursue is to exploit its vast resources of thorium, a radioactive chemical element that is much more common than uranium in India, along with developing the required new technologies. This, the authors argue, would allow India to be entirely self-sufficient over the entire process of producing energy using nuclear power.

The report also offers another option for India to consider with regard to its nuclear future: “Relying on imported uranium to fuel light water reactors can be an alternative strategy for India’s nuclear future, which does not require the development of the more complex nuclear technology chain as needed for thorium. The use of uranium would initially require imported reactors, later to be replaced by Indian-designed reactors.”

Harnessing the sun’s rays

As well as coal (using CCS) and nuclear, the report states that because of good sun exposure in many parts of the country, solar power is another potential carbon-free option that could contribute significantly to fulfilling the country’s expanding electricity demand.

The report suggests pursuing a combination of photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) in order to meet this aim.

CSP devices concentrate energy from the sun’s rays to heat a receiver to high temperatures. This heat is transformed first into mechanical energy (by turbines or other engines) and then into electricity. PV systems on the other hand directly convert solar energy into electricity using a PV cell; this is a semiconductor device that converts solar energy into electricity.

The report then adds: “Given the size of the market, it is worthwhile to develop an Indian equipment industry for solar-PV and CSP, and for transmission and distribution equipment.”

Future funding

The IEA report provides cost estimates for the different scenarios. For the first scenario (the one based on current energy policies) analysts calculate that USD 2.7 trillion will be needed over the next 40 years. The results for the other more upbeat scenario show that USD 4.0 trillion will be needed over the same period of time – almost 50% higher than the first scenario.

“Given the magnitude of the required finances, private-sector investment will clearly be crucial,” says Mr Remme. “The government can do a lot to encourage companies to invest by working to ensure macroeconomic stability, and that the right conditions and infrastructure are in place. In addition, policy makers should implement consistent and transparent regulations, which would also give confidence to companies.”

He adds: “India should also consider co-operating with other countries on the latest technologies that are available in nuclear power, solar and CCS methods. By sharing expertise with other pioneering countries, positive progress can be made.”

Click here to read the report

Key questions

What sources of energy does India consume?
India consumed 600 Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) of primary energy in 2007. Coal represented the largest primary energy source with a share of 40%. Biomass (27%) and oil (24%) each provide around one-quarter of the primary energy demand, while hydro (2%) nuclear (1%) and natural gas (6%) make up the rest.

What is carbon capture and storage?
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a group of technologies used to reduce CO2 emissions from large CO2 sources such as fossil fuel or biomass power generation and industrial processes such as cement, iron and steel and fertilizer manufacturing. Following the capture of CO2 it is then transported and stored in specifically selected and characterised geological formations over 1000m below the ground. Parts of the CCS chain have been used in industry for many decades however the complete process has only been demonstrated at a commercial scale at five locations around the world.

What is renewable energy?
‘Renewable energy’ is energy that is derived from natural processes (e.g. sunlight and wind) that are replenished at a higher rate than they are consumed. Solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, and biomass are common sources of renewable energy.

Photo: Electricity pylons. ©GraphicObsession

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